Revision Isn’t for the Weak

Woman in sweater and sunglasses holding a phone

It’s “stage critical” for the second Olivia Lively mystery this week, and I had a mini-breakdown on Friday because of it.

Here’s what happened. I finished drafting Night Moves: An Olivia Lively Mystery, Book 2 several months ago and set it aside to “marinate.” Because I didn’t want to face reality, I deluded myself into thinking the book wouldn’t need much work and figured it would be pretty easy to revise it ahead of sending it to the developmental editor I hired.


Several of my beta readers said the first chapter needed to be cut, possibly combined with chapter two. When readers say the same thing, you listen.

I spent the next two weeks working on that one chapter. Something wasn’t working for me. I reworked it so much, I feared I’d killed the opening of my novel. Dear Reader, I despaired. Finally, finally I realized that although the beta readers were right, I still liked the punch of my original first line. I put it back in. The story needed that original zest.

I was able to move on, but I still had an entire manuscript to get through by January 30. Some of those chapters I hadn’t touched since drafting them, so they needed reworking for clarity, for impact, for rhythm–style in other words–as well as pacing and, well, making sure each scene drove the story forward. In a way that made logical sense. And kept the tension high.

Honestly, revision isn’t for the weak and faint of heart. You have to go in there like a warrior. Like freakin’ Xena Warrior Princess.

The Deacon’s Masterpiece

I proceeded to spend hours every day at this desk. Normally I’d take my Chromebook to the balcony or even to my bed, but this thing is on it’s last days. The mousepad doesn’t work, so I’ve connected a real mouse. The charger port won’t hold the charger securely, so I have to place the connector prong just…so. A piece of silver duct tape holds one corner together. It’s like The Deacon’s Masterpiece. It’s breaking down all at once!

HAVE you heard of the wonderful one-hoss-shay,
That was built in such a logical way
It ran a hundred years to a day,
And then, of a sudden, it–ah, but stay” —Oliver Wendell Holmes, The Deacon’s Masterpiece, or The Wonderful One-Hoss Shay, 1858

Anyway, with my heart hammering and fingers trembling (due to all the caffeine consumption), I set about to revise this book, and with time pressing on me, I may have spent too many hours. I didn’t leave the apartment. I didn’t go on my usual walks. I stopped journaling. I either revised or, brain-dead, crashed on the couch to watch Bridgerton episodes (my new obsession, by the way! Those gowns! Those houses!)

By Friday, hungry and mentally exhausted, I suggested to my husband that we walk down the street to Grater Cheese for a lobster grilled cheese and sweet potato fries.

“If we walk, the food will get cold. Why don’t you drive.” Okay, fine.

My Mini Mental Breakdown

Now, I don’t drive a lot out here in San Diego, and remember, I was a bit . . . strained. But holding it in. I’m a professional, after all. I started the Mustang and waited for another car to turn the corner in the garage and go past us, and then I eased from our parking space . . .

“Watch out!” My lovely husband yelled.

Nay, SCREAMED into my amygdala.

A cascade of hormones flooded through my body in a way I’ve never quite experienced before. I slammed the brakes. I backed up. I shook. I peered out the windshield to see what disaster I’d barely avoided. Had I nearly run over a child?

Nothing there.

“Whaaa . . .?”

I looked at my husband who started to laugh. “I was just being funny,” he said.

That’s when I started to laugh. Uncontrollably. And then cry. And then laugh-cry. Anger, residual panic, disbelief, betrayal, disgust. I felt it ALL. And here’s the thing, one part of my brain watched all this in rapt fascination while the other part went off the rails.

For a good three minutes there was nothing either of my brains could do.

Once I calmed down, I realized my revision schedule may have possibly strung my nerves tighter than the corset strings of an 18th century courtesan. I took the rest of the night off from book and Bridgerton and watched two classic movies from the 1980s: The Breakfast Club followed by Footloose, which, by the way, feels very relevant to today. Watch it again for the book-burning scene.

And Kevin Bacon looking so freakin’ adorable.

The next day, after a good night’s sleep, an hour in the gym, and some keto coffee, I managed to get through all but the last two chapters of the book. I should finish today or tomorrow.

By the way, in case you were wondering: We walked to Grater Cheese.

Writing Revision Tips

When it comes time for revisions, give yourself plenty of time. Make a revision schedule that accommodates one or two hours per day, max.

Keep yourself hydrated, rested, and physically active.

Eat whole foods and get outside in the fresh air and sun if possible.

Remind yourself that until the book goes to print, you can make changes. No need to panic.

Find beta readers and take their responses seriously, especially if they all respond to the same scenes or chapters. But . . .

Use your instincts. A negative response doesn’t necessarily mean the entire scene needs to be thrown out. Perhaps the problem is the scene is too long or too short. Maybe it needs to be fleshed out with more characters or exposition ditched to make room for dialogue.

Ask yourself what each scene accomplishes and how it moves the story forward. Some scenes add to the general atmosphere of a novel, but they should also create nuance or inject conflict or a roadblock, something that will affect the characters’ journey and the eventual resolution.

If you have multiple plot lines (like I do) work to weave the two together. How does the heroine’s breakup with her lover impact her job performance the next day, for instance? How does that job performance create a twist in the main plot of the novel, for better or for worse?

The best tip I can give you is believe in your story. You might hate it and love it at the same time. You might feel like banging your head on your already broken laptop computer. You might end up laughing and crying in a parking lot craving a perfect grilled cheese sandwich after a day staring at a screen and despairing about your ability to string a few words together into a coherent sentence. But believe in your story.

It will get you where you need to go.


  1. Oh no, Shelley! When I read of your mini meltdown, I really felt for you. I would definitely have reacted the same way as you. That prank was certainly the last straw, and not something I would have accepted as graciously as you.

    1. Haha, Debbie! I had ZERO control over my reaction. It’s kind of amusing, but not at the time!

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